A trip along the southern coast of Iceland is not complete without a stop at Skaftafell National Park to take part of some hiking opportunities. There are plenty of trails to choose from depending on fitness level, all of which will have some incredible viewpoints to take in.
Whether you just have a couple hours or a full day, Skaftafell will have something for you.
This Skaftafell hiking guide will go over what the park has to offer and will provide a more in depth review of one of the main hikes to take part of. Hope you enjoy it!
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1) Skaftafell National Park Overview
Skaftafell is filled with plenty of hiking options. You could spend days here checking out the different trails and taking in the incredible landscape. From glaciers and waterfalls to greenery and spectacular views, Skaftafell has it all.
At the base of the park you will find a visitor center, cafeteria, restrooms and some food trucks.
If you have any questions when you arrive, feel free to ask those that work there or even those who work at the glacier guides shop to help you out. Everyone is super friendly and can help point you in the right direction.
If you are one on a budget or feeling outdoorsy, there is also a great camping ground right near the base of the park where you can pitch a tent alongside other hikers to get the true Skaftafell experience. If not, there are a bunch of small hotels and guesthouses nearby.
Also do not forget to bring layers on layers and those hiking boats! The weather can be unpredictable as it can be raining and windy at one moment but the sun can be shining the next, so be prepared for anything. More soon on the essential items to carry along on your hike!
Planning a Trip to Iceland? Take a Look at Some Itineraries & Guides below:
Iceland Itineraries: 10 Day Ring Road Itinerary | 7 Day Southern Coast Itinerary | 5 Day Iceland Itinerary
Iceland Hiking Guides: Reykjadalur Hot Springs Hike | Glymur Waterfall Hike | Hiking the Skogafoss Trail
Other Iceland Guides: One Day in Reykjavik | The Golden Circle Route
2) Location of Skaftafell
Skaftafell National Park is located on the southeastern portion of Iceland. The map below can give you a better sense of where it is relative to the rest of the country.
If you are heading to Skaftafell you are most likely doing so from right nearby or a town/city not too far away such as Vik, Kirkjuaejarklaustur or Hofn.
If you are based in Reykjavik you can probably make a very long day trip out of it but it would entail around 8 hours of driving round trip.
The last section of this guide goes into more detail about some of the accommodation options to choose from.
When it comes to renting a car in Iceland, I would highly recommend checking out Rentalcars.com for potential options.
By going through Rentalcars.com, you will have the chance to compare car prices among a variety of rental companies, and choose the best option for you.
3) Skaftafell Hiking Gear
Whenever heading off on longer day hikes, I always recommend being adequately prepared when it comes to the type of gear to bring along.
Check out the below packing list to get you ready for this hike and other hikes in Iceland.
As mentioned the weather can change drastically in Iceland and you should be prepared for all conditions.
Hiking Packing List
In general when it comes to hiking, there are a few main aspects to consider. These includes clothing layers, hiking shoes, hydration & fuel, electronics, and other essentials.
Below in a breakdown of some of the top items, but be sure to check out the Hiking Packing List for a more comprehensive view.
Layering is going to be a top consideration when hiking. You will want to be prepared for all sorts of weather so you can be comfortable in different situations. Some items may include:
→ Hiking Shorts
→ Hiking Pants
→ Short Sleeve Shirt
→ Long Sleeve Shirt / Sun Hoodie
→ Mid Layer Fleece
→ Puff Jacket (not always needed)
→ Packable Rain Jacket (Columbia Watertight II)
Note that your layers should be made of moisture wicking material as they are breathable and quick drying.
Having appropriate footwear will also be very important. You will want to have shoes with the necessary grip and support to keep you safe on the trail.
→ Hiking Shoes (Keen Targhee)
→ Hiking Socks (Darn Tough)
Whether it is hiking gear, electronics, or just some miscellaneous items, here are some other essentials to bring along on hikes.
→ Hiking Backpack (Osprey Talon 22) & Rain Cover (Joy Walker Cover)
→ Hiking Poles (Black Diamond Trekking Poles)
→ Water Bottle (CamelBak Chute or Katadyn Filter Bottle)
→ Portable Charger (Anker PowerCore 5000mAh)
→ Action Camera (GoPro Hero)
→ Energy Bars & Snacks
→ Hat & Sunglasses
→ Sunscreen & Bug Spray
4) Skaftafell Hiking Guide
As you arrive at the base of Skaftafell you are to see a bunch of boards with maps of the area. There are numerous trails to choose from so depending on how much time you have you can pick the trail that is best for you. Some of the trails are nice and easy while others can get more technical.
Below is a map of the hiking area where you can see the different routes highlighted. If you want to see the map in more detail check it out here.
» You can also take part of a Skaftafell Glacier Hike, where you will have the chance to hike on a nearby glacier. This will require signing up through a local company as you cannot just do it on your own. Check out the guide for more!
As you can see highlighted in red and blue are the 9 different trails that are located within Skaftafell.
According to Skaftafell’s hiking route overview, two of the routes are marked easy, one difficult, and six challenging.
If you just have a couple hours you should probably take a look at the two easy routes – S1 and S2 – the first being a nice walk towards the glacier on the lower right hand side of the park and the second being one of those blue lines at the beginning of the park that just ends up at Svartifoss (a beautiful waterfall).
Now, if you have more time on your hands and want to get a bit more technical there are plenty of hikes to choose from. To get a better overview of the technical hikes see below in the next section which goes over the longer S3 Skaftafell hike.
5) Skaftafell S3 Hike
The S3 hike takes you all throughout the trails of Skaftafell. From the Svartifoss waterfall to the never ending glacier views, this hike has it all.
The hike is about 17km in length (~10 miles) and can take anywhere from 4-6 hours depending on fitness level (and stopping numerous times along the way for photo ops).
The hike starts at the base of the park where you can head straight towards Svartifoss before veering right towards S6. The route will soon turn technical as you begin to walk on dirt, grass, rocks and a whole lot of mountain.
As you make your way to the point where S5 meets S6 you will get an incredible view of the Skaftafellsjokull glacier (the point on the map above is called Sjonarnipa).
Once you start your way north up the mountain you will really feel the legs burning as it is a straight shot to the top of the mountain.
Along this trek up you will continuously see this amazing glacier to your right and greenery in every other direction you look.
The most incredible part of this experience was the absolutely insane winds that were coming down the glacier towards the edge of the hike. Check out this video and take a listen.
Once you reach the top portion of the hike, you will then make your way around the mountain following that “U” shape before crossing over and making your way back down.
For the most part after reaching the top portion it is a lot of down hill but there are some valleys that you must climb up as well during the descent.
As you get closer to the bottom of the hike you will have the option to make a pit stop at Svartifoss, which is one waterfall not to miss out on.
You can snap some photos from a distance and have the option to get pretty up close to it as well.
After a long day of hiking you can take a rest at the visitor center and grab some food from the cafeteria or nearby food trucks for a well deserved recovery.
6) Where to Stay Near Skaftafell
If you are going to Skaftafell National Park odds are you will be heading there from nearby rather than a day trip from Reykjavik.
If you are planning on going all along the Ring Road or just exploring the Southern Coast, there are a few towns nearby that could work for you.
The closest place would be right outside of the the national park itself. You can take a look at Hotel Skaftafell and some places nearby it.
Another option is to stay about an hour away in Kirkjubæjarklaustur, which is a larger town with some restaurant options. A couple top hotel options there would be Hotel Laki and Hotel Geirland.
You can use the search box above to see accommodation options all around the area that would be the best fit for you.
Take a look at our other Iceland itineraries and guides to help out with any other trip planning. Hope you enjoy your hiking experience in Skaftafell National Park. Feel free to comment below with any questions!